A Vintage Caroline Charles, Beloved of Princess Diana...
When I graduated from Princeton, in June of 1978, I had no job. I was without training for a job. I had majored in Comparative Literature, Italian, French, Latin. Epic poetry. I knew a lot about metaphor. And metonymy. I sent in an application to American Express to become a travel agent, since I had enjoyed traveling with my family to Jamaica and Mexico, and to France for Princeton. Evidently American Express was not staffed by a bunch of complete idiots because I was not hired.
I could have lain around my mother's house for months with migraines. But a few weeks was really enough. One of my Texas roommates was in London, on a Sotheby's course. She had a flat. Aha. I could join her. But to do what?
So my father called his old Harvard roommate, who was living in England. A theatrical agent, responsible for people like Anthony Quinn. He said he could probably find me something. I had no idea that this was an artifact of privilege. I was very naive. But I filled out the forms for a visa. I flew to London. And got a job with Cameron Mackintosh. He's Sir Cameron Mackintosh now, having single-handedly reinvigorated the British musical industry. CATS. Phantom. Etc. At the time he ran his 4-person shop up in an attic office above Covent Garden. Narrow, worn, wooden stairs, noisy to climb.
The job consisted of, well, making tea. Answering phones. Cameron's life, however, was very glamorous. And he was very good at what he did. Which meant that, in 1979, he was appointed to produce the Society of West End Theatre Awards. The British equivalent of the Tony Awards. Now known as the Olivier Awards.
I was not supposed to attend. But, at the last minute, i.e. the morning of the event, an extra ticket was available. And they offered it to me, their young American intern.
Cue wailing and tearing of hair. I didn't have a dress. I was going to the British Tony Awards and I didn't have a dress. As you can imagine, anxiety nearly knocked me to my knees. High WASPs don't go to formal events without the right dress. Cinderella and all that. I explained my situation, and they let me run out of the office. I had 4 hours to shop.
I wound up at Harvey Nichols. Slightly more manageable than Harrods. And in a frenzy, spent something like $600 (a lot of money in 1979) on a dress by Caroline Charles. Who would one day clothe a princess. But that day, she dressed a little American in this.
Yes. I still have it. Black silk chiffon, hand-dyed, metallic flecks. I have never known why I kept these things. Clearly it was to show you all.
And off I went.
I was remarkably stupid back then. Overwhelmed by the glitter around me. Liza Minnelli sang. She came by our table to say "Hi," to Cameron. I drank too much. My colleagues thought it was funny. They kept filling up my glass. I did not object.
Dinner ended. Awards were given out. An after-party ensued. Albert Finney was there. Handsome. Younger. I was young too. And completely drunk. Which explains, I hope, why, when introduced, I proceeded to tell him that I thought he was fabulous and should he be looking for a companion that evening I was available.
Ever the well-behaved proper British gent, when necessary, Mr. Finney replied, "That's very sweet of you dear. I am most appreciative of the offer. However, I believe my girlfriend might object." His girlfriend. Right over there. Diana Quick, the It girl of London.
Or so I was told. As is common with that degree of intoxication, I don't remember much. I do not, however, believe that a Grande Dame would have behaved that way. Dress or no dress. Sixty-two rum and tonics facilitated by amused colleagues or no sixty-two rum and tonics. What do you think?
I am not sure that Grandes Dames have as good stories as the rest of us. But if they do, I bet they wouldn't be embarrassed to tell. Impunity.